The bot ecosystem is changing, and so are the use-cases. Fueled by the development work of Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and others, bots are becoming more intelligent and therefore capable of performing tasks previously done by humans.
Not to be confused with robots, a bot is a software program designed to imitate the behavior of humans. Most bots are designed to do a specific task, whether that's crawling the web to index sites, making robocalls, serving up a weather report, or responding to a simple customer query. However, orchestration layers are required to enable seamless, transparent, rich services.
"Business bots for the enterprise are a huge opportunity. Intelligent action bots can replace processes, workflows and interfaces across everything from supply chain and inventory to sales and marketing," said Chris Eben, a managing partner at software and app development company TWG, in an interview.
[Are you ready for the bot invasion? Read The Rise of the Bots: 11 Ways Your Business Can Prepare.]
While bots are typically considered tools for consumer-facing web experiences, there are many business applications for them, particularly to perform rote, repetitive tasks. However, with the help of machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI), bots are expected to eventually take on sophisticated tasks.
For example, enterprise software company Unit4 is building bots to improve the efficiency of travel requests, expenses, absences, time recording, and purchasing for its employees and managers. The company is also building bots to handle workflows and approvals.
In the near future, Unit4 will build bots to assist managers with financial and operational decision-making. It's also building a digital assistant called Wanda that will orchestrate bots and run the processes.
"We need a broad set of use-cases and digital assistants that can orchestrate bots covering complex and broad use-cases. If a bot offers only a very simple use-case or 'can only go so far,' and the user has to switch to another way of completing the [task], users might give up on the bots and select a traditional UI in the first place," said Thomas Staven, global head of presales and product strategist at Unit4, in an interview.
All of this may sound easy, but building an effective bot requires a clear understanding of its capabilities, not only by the developers building its functionality, but by the marketers touting those capabilities and the users who expect the bot to perform as advertised. For example, there are now 11,000 Facebook Messenger bots. Not surprisingly, their functionality, sophistication, and value differ significantly.
From an enterprise perspective, developers, IT, and business executives need to consider more than the "benefits" a bot provides. They must also consider important software issues such as privacy, security, scalability, interoperability, the effect of human skills displacement, and customer acceptance.
Join us as we look at 10 ways bots can be used to replace existing products, services, and processes in the enterprise. Once you've reviewed these ideas, tell us what you think in the comments section below.
Are you working with bots in your enterprise? Is your organization exploring bots as tools to improve future products or processes?Lisa Morgan is a freelance writer who covers big data and BI for InformationWeek. She has contributed articles, reports, and other types of content to various publications and sites ranging from SD Times to the Economist Intelligent Unit. Frequent areas of coverage include ... View Full Bio